Close your eyes for a moment. Take a deep breath while inhaling through your nose & then slowly releasing it out through your mouth. Take another breath. And then another.
What do you hear? Do you notice your muscles tensing? What smells are coming into your nostrils as you breath? Can you still your thoughts to just be in the moment? What are you feeling? Are you alone? Do you feel connected?
Since I was younger I have had a deep desire to search out & find the wonder around me. Sometimes it seems like I am the only one who sees this need for transcendence. But then I catch glimpses of others who are also in search of wonder, like my friend Dan who shared last week that his, “ journey has been very much realizing that [wonder] is everywhere & it’s not just in the walls of the church.”
How do we define wonder? Is it just something that is far off in some mystical or spiritual place? Is it a person or persons that manifests into our lives & interacts with us? What is our relationship to wonder & why do we need it to be a part of our life?
While our journey is just beginning, a few weeks ago a group of friends & I sat around discussing & exploring some of these questions. While the ideas we raised still need a lot more unpacking, we brought several themes to the table that I think are a good start at understanding just what this wonder we are in search of is.
Transcendent & Yet Also Eminent
Over the past 500 years, society has made it increasingly more difficult to see or hear the story of wonder in a incarnational or real way that is part of our life. With the rise of logic & the enlightenment age of reason, we have slowly eroded our need for any divine or transcendent narrative. As Alan Hirsch & Mark Nelson recently wrote in their latest book ‘Reframation: Seeing God, People, & Mission Through Reenchanted Frames’:
“The issue is not just a loss of traditional religious faith and a declining church but a more profound loss of our whole sense of transcendence, our spiritual instincts, and our consciousness of the divine. It is a growing blindness and deafness to the Eternal, and we find ourselves tragically limited to the horizon of this finite world, such that we “no longer grasp the ‘transcendent’ character of [our] ‘existence as man.’”
Last week my wife Bonnie & I went to Canmore & spent the afternoon looking in the shops along the main street. One particular art store grabbed our attention as we recognized the local artist Jason Leo Bantle’s work (All In The Wild). Roaming the beautiful pictures inside, I came across a particular piece that captured my imagination called ‘Red & White Pride’ (See the picture at the top of this post). Taken in a local setting known as ‘The Valley Of The Ten Peaks’, the images in the photo seemed to take me into a world of grand scale. The mountain scape in the background showed a world of transcendent grandness; places of mystery & unexplored discovery that called for exploration. While the the eminent foreground brought an incredible beauty to the ever present sense of place & belonging. Sitting in the hall space of the little Canmore store, I nearly felt the call to hike into such an amazing world while being able to smell the prairie fire winds depicted right before me.
While allowing my imagination to take in this awe inspiring picture, the conversation I had with my friends the week before became all the more real as I thought about the tensions we saw between transcendent & eminent realities. Wonder cannot exist in just the transcendent stories of heavenly realms & fable landscapes; it must also exist as the eminent truths of incarnational presence & creational place & time. To base wonder solely on a heavenly place to which we go to in a future eternal life erodes the very value of the life we have here & now. While doing the opposite & basing wonder in just the eminent incarnation of life looses the mysterious beauty & call to become something more & greater than where we find ourselves today.
As I’ve been reflecting on our discussion into the personhood of God, I am realizing the deep struggles each of us had in articulating his character & nature. At the root of any effort to describe the divine personhood of wonder, language becomes the crux of any truth to reality. At one level we want to fall back onto the dogmatic language of the doctrinal traditions we have been raised with; resulting in a description that seems more like an impersonal transference of knowledge that lacks life experience & relational relevance. While simplifying God’s description to the language of emotions & subjective cultural reference seems abstract & lacking to the intricate dynamics & complexities of the divine’s role in history.
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus asks two very telling questions of his followers. The first is, “Who do the people say that I am?” The reliance of any answer falls to the dictations of society & becomes subservient to the cultures, time, & powers of the places & person’s it is being asked. Any result could produce ideological falsehoods or truths so reduced to the image of the current empire that ultimately it looks nothing like divine eternal nature. The second question is, “Who do you say that I am?” The answer becomes reliant not on a societal or even individual’s response alone, but a relational reply that requires both a historical awareness of the divine’s role & the person’s subjective encounter with His/Her character.
Trying to describe this dance of wonder with creation, Abraham Herschel writes that:
“To the philosopher God is an object, to men at prayer He is the subject. Their aim is not to possess Him as a concept of knowledge, to be informed about Him, as if He were a fact among facts. What they crave for is to be wholly possessed by Him, to be an object of His knowledge and to sense it. The task is not to know the unknown but to be penetrated with it; not to know but to be known to Him, to expose ourselves to Him rather than Him to us; not to judge and to assert but to listen and to be judged by Him.”
To try & describe the nature of God in all His wonders will always be a relational process that produces both turmoil & revelation. “The invitation from God,” Hirsch & Nelson point out, “is always an invitation to relationship, not an invitation to the “right way” of adhering to rules and regulations.” Likewise, our language in describing God must always be continually in flux, focused not on what our expectations of him/her are but on how we continue to encounter his divine presence amidst the greater wonders of creation.
This is perhaps where I would like to see the Inception of Wonder grow! What is the language we find best describing the Divine personhood of God? Where does Jesus incarnate wonder in his historical being? How does this language transcend religious barriers both in hospitality & truthful reality?
The Ultimate Wonder Of Relationship
“ I’ve often felt that mountains are not the pinnacle of beauty in the world, ,” Preston Pouteaux writes in his book ‘The Bees Of Rainbow Falls’. He continues, “that they are not the most meaningful source of spiritual awe and satisfaction. Neither are bees, or birds, or stars. I leave the mountains with renewed life, but I return to my neighbourhood and city to encounter the most stunning source of beauty in its most sublime form: people.”
No matter where we search for it or attempt to manifest it, wonder & mystery come to a purpose & front in the reality that we are created to be in relationship. It is not meant to be a dependance upon any one particular relationship, but rather an interdependence amongst multiple relationships. That interdependence might seem strange in a western society that attempts to crown each individual as a king in their own making. But the truth is, we cannot exist nor find purpose without the love, connection, & recognition of others.
Recently I had coffee with my friend Mike Rose. We actually recorded a podcast on ‘Hospitality & Entertaining Our Self Being’ that will come out later this November. He shared how Rene Descartes’s philosophical language & logic of “Cogito ergo sum” or “I think therefore I am”, has created a false sense in our society that every person is the commander of their own fate & success; that to be in interdependence of an other for any need diminishes a self perceived quality of life we feel should be kept & created independently. The sad truth is this way of thinking creates a culture of shame & leads to a profound loss of humanity & dignity towards those who struggle with mental illness/loss & physical disability.
Just as we found in the two questions Jesus asked his followers, the purpose of wonder cannot be solely in the nature of relationship with society & creation but must be found in our need for relationship with wonder itself. Henry Nouwen writes that, “As long as we continue to live as if we are what we do, what we have, and what other people think about us, we will remain filled with judgments, opinions, evaluations, and condemnations. We will remain addicted to putting people and things in their ‘right" place.’” Instead, we must learn how we cannot find a “quality of life” in a definition we create or institutionalize ourselves, but rather seek & search for our relational meaning in the search for divine wonder itself.
The search for wonder is far from complete & I’m excited to see where its mysteries lead us next!